The Ravens had their backs against the wall.
Over their three-game losing skid during the last month, players talked about facing must-win games in each of the last two weeks. Team leader Terrell Suggs said after the loss to Pittsburgh in Week 8 that the team was in a "state of emergency."* *Head Coach John Harbaugh acknowledged that returning to the playoffs for a sixth-straight season "would be a challenge" given the Ravens' 3-5 start to the season.
The Ravens were in an unfamiliar position, but the message in the midst of those struggles was that one victory could turn around the season. Sunday's win over the AFC North leading Cincinnati Bengals may end up being that game.
"Oh yes, it can start something," cornerback Lardarius Webb said of the 20-17 overtime win. "But we can't let this get over our heads, thinking we're something that we're not. We've just got to get back to that film and keep getting better, and better, and better, because we're a great ball club."
With the win on Sunday, the Ravens (4-5) are back within striking distance of the Bengals (6-4) in the division. Baltimore is tied with Cleveland, and still has to play two more division games this season (one at Cincinnati and one versus Pittsburgh).
"I don't think we ever thought we were out of it," quarterback Joe Flacco said. "And this game definitely helps. We've just got to continue to go out there, and we understand that we have to win football games. We're at 4-5, and we've got to do the best we can to win every one."
The Ravens have won the division in back-to-back years, and they are familiar with playing meaningful games in the second half of the season. They overcame a three-game skid near the end of last year to end up winning the Super Bowl, and a Week 16 victory over the New York Giants helped spring them to their Super Bowl run.
"Now we have to get on a roll to get back where we want to be," running back Ray Rice said. "It was a good team win. Number one, it gives you confidence. It's great to get rolling with a little bit of confidence."
With the Ravens' win on Sunday, the division is still very much up for grabs. The Bengals are still at the top, but they have lost two straight games and have a matchup with the Browns coming up next week. Cleveland has already beaten the Bengals once this year.
The Ravens will travel to Chicago to take on a Bears team (5-4) coming off a loss and looking to keep pace with the Packers in the NFC North.
"We put ourselves in a big hole," tight end Dallas Clark said. "All we can do is take it one week at a time and focus. All our energies and focus need to be put into next week and finish the season like that. That's all we can do."
The Ravens have seven games left to make a run, and they will play four of those matchups in Baltimore. Sunday's win put them back in the mix for the division crown and could end up proving to be a turning point in the season.
"I never really thought that we were out of it, just because we hadn't played [the Bengals]," Flacco said. "We've got a good stretch. Before this, there were eight games left. Anything can happen in that amount of time."